Orville Higgins | Shine the light on high school cricket
In a little over a month from now, (February 28 to be exact), the nation will know whether Mark Neita would have been successful in his bid to unseat Wilford “Billy” Heaven as president of the Jamaica Cricket Association (JCA). I will have more to say on that election as the date gets closer. For now, though, I would advise that whoever wins takes up the matter of the waning interest in high-school cricket in Jamaica. No matter what other lofty plans they may have, if the issue of the rapidly declining participation in cricket in high schools is not addressed, then cricket in Jamaica will never make it to the heights that we all want it to. I accept that high-school cricket, strictly speaking, comes under the auspices of the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA), but the JCA will have to show initiative, and together with the high-school body, come up with a formula to make more high schools play cricket. A few years ago, up to 60 high schools in rural Jamaica were playing Headley Cup cricket. This year, that number has dropped to a mere 39. St Elizabeth, widely regarded as the parish that plays the most community cricket in Jamaica, has 14 high schools. Only four of those schools are playing in the current Headley Cup.
In neighbouring parish Manchester, the story is similar. There are 15 high schools in Manchester, and only four of them are now in the Headley Cup competition.
What makes the story more interesting is that of those 15 high schools in Manchester, 14 play in the daCosta Cup football competition. The numbers are similarly lopsided for high schools that participate in football versus cricket all over the island.
Look at the numbers
In urban Jamaica only 20 schools are playing in the Grace Shield cricket competition this year. More than twice that number (42) played in the Manning Cup football competition.
When you look at the disparity between rural high schools that play cricketvis a vis football, the difference is even more striking. There were 87 schools that played in the daCosta Cup last year compared to the 39 that is currently playing in the Headley Cup. This disparity has to be addressed. Throw in the participation in ISSA Boys and Girls’ Championships and again the numbers make for interesting reading. There were 105 boys schools and 104 girls schools that registered for “Champs” last year. Some of those schools participated in both genders, making it more than 130 high schools, all told, that was at the national stadium last year. One of the reasons why Jamaica does so well at the international level in track and field can be seen in those numbers. Mass participation at the high school level is one way to ensure that the national team is always at a high level. So yes the passion for high school cricket is dwindling rapidly. The reason behind that could be the subject of an intense study.
Suffice it to say that those who sit in the corridors of power must find a way to make high school boys want to play cricket again. Maybe the thrust should be to get cricket going in the all age schools again, with the assumption that if the youngsters enjoy cricket in their formative years, they will continue loving the sport as they grow into adulthood. If we don’t address that then cricket at the highest levels in Jamaica will continue to struggle.